1. Think BCS The conference commissioners who spent more than a year putting the playoff together cringe when itís suggested that the new system is BCS 2.0, but to understand how it works, it helps to keep in mind how the Bowl Championship Series worked.
In the BCS, there were four, and then later five games played each season. Only one, the national championship game, had anything to do with the national championship. The others were glitzy games played in showcase stadiums that ó hopefully ó had compelling matchups. Six conferences had automatic bids to those games, and other teams could earn automatic entry.
The new system will have a total of seven games, including two national semifinals and a final that will determine the national champion. The four other games will be glitzy games played in showcase stadiums that ó hopefully ó will have compelling matchups. There will no longer be automatic bids for six conference champions, as was the case for the BCS. Now five conferences (the Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, ACC and Pac-12) each have a guaranteed spot for their conference champion in either the semifinals or one of the four glitzy bowls. There will also be a guaranteed spot for the best team from the five FBS conferences (the Big East, soon to be the American Athletic Conference, Mountain West, Sun Belt, Conference-USA and Mid-American).
2. The matchups The selection committee will, for the most part, make the matchups. Foremost it will seed the top four teams in the country, setting up the semifinals. No. 1 will play No. 4. No. 2 will play No. 3.
The selection committee will also set some of the matchups in the glitzy bowls, with a priority on getting as many highly ranked teams as possible into the games.
But this is important: when the Rose Bowl does not host a semifinal, it will always be Big Ten vs. Pac-12. The Sugar Bowl in years it does not host a semifinal will always be SEC vs. Big 12. The Orange Bowl in the years it does not host a semifinal will always be ACC vs. either an SEC team, a Big Ten team or Notre Dame.
3. Conference limitations None. Unlike the BCS, which capped the number of teams from a conference at two, in the new system there is no limit to how many teams a league can put in the two semifinals or the other bowls.
4. Where? The semifinals will rotate through six bowl games: the Rose (Pasadena), Orange (Miami), Sugar (New Orleans), Fiesta (Glendale, Ariz.), Cotton (Arlington, Texas) and Chick-fil-A (Atlanta). When those games donít host a semifinal, they will put on one of the glitzy bowls.
The title game will be bid out like the Super Bowl and move all over the country. The first will be played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, also home of the Cotton Bowl.
5. When? Three games will be played back-to-back-to-back on New Yearís Eve and there will be another tripleheader on New Yearís Day. Adjustments will be made if Dec. 31 or Jan. 1 falls on a Sunday so as to not conflict with the NFL.
The championship game will always be played on a Monday, at least a week after the semis.
The first season the semifinals will be in the Rose and Sugar bowls on Jan. 1, 2015. The Rose will kick off at 5 p.m. The Sugar around 8:30 p.m.
The championship game in Texas will be played Jan. 12, and kick off around 8:30 p.m.
6. TV All these games will be shown on ESPN. It has reportedly paid about $7.2 billion for the entire package.
7. Where the money goes About 85 percent of it will go to the Big Five conferences. The other five will split the rest, but donít feel too badly for them. Most will be making about five times the amount they made with the BCS.
8. And about that selection committee The idea was to make it similar to the one that puts together the NCAA basketball tournament, made up of athletic directors and conference commissioners. But make no mistake, this will be much tougher to put together, and the commissioners know that.
Everything is still up for debate, from who will be on the committee (current or former athletic administrators?) to how many people will be on it (16? 18? 20?) to what kind of metrics and rankings will guide decisions.
9. How long before this system can be changed? The conferences and ESPN worked out a 12-year deal based on a four-team playoff format. So it appears to be locked in for 12 years, even though the structure is there for it to grow.
10. Why wonít the system grow to 8 or 16 teams? ďBecause we donít want to,Ē BCS executive director Bill Hancock said.
Of course, a few years ago some of the same people working on this didnít want a playoff system at all.